I recently attended my 25th year college reunion. My university publishes a book for each reunion, asking people to write a reflection piece. Mine is below.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
This is one of the most well-known (somewhat cliché) poems on the planet, with good reason: it talks about a universal experience. We are constantly making choices and taking one road over another.
While growing up, I used to do a three mile run around my neighborhood. Toward the end of the loop, there was a point where I could turn left and take a shortcut home – the easy choice. Toward the right, I would have a longer route culminating with a tough hill. Every time I chose to go right (most of the time, I am proud to say), I would repeat the above quote in my head. I felt that every small decision and step would lead me closer or further away from who I wanted to be. I was somewhat petrified of making the wrong choices, closing off options, and jeopardizing future opportunities. What if I made the wrong choice?
For a while, I really screwed this up. While in my senior year at Harvard, seeing everyone running around in black or gray (for the risk takers) business suits for recruitment interviews, I felt enormous pressure to fit in. I could be a doctor (too bad I only took that one science class with the naughty bonobos); a banker or consultant (too bad that I only took one theoretical course on mathematics which involved philosophy and zero calculations); or a lawyer (hey, anyone can do that – bingo!).
I chose the wrong path. I bowed to pressure, worried about what others would think of me if I didn’t choose the same course, and I did what I thought I should do. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. It didn’t resonate with me. I did not feel passionate about it, and I was not able to showcase my strengths. I should have done a 180 when all of my college roommates looked at me in shock and confusion when I said I would be going to law school. I knew it was the wrong road, but I took it anyway.
I spent three miserable years waking up and crying almost every day before going to law school. I spent 2.5 miserable years after graduating crying almost every day before going to work in a corporate law firm. I remember coming home at night, often late and thinking, “This is not what I want my life to be.”
At some point, I had had enough. I had nothing to lose (except a large corporate lawyer’s salary) and decided to change the way I approached life. No longer would I choose a road based on what I should do. I started choosing paths based on what I wanted to do. And everything went so smoothly after that – not perfect of course, but so much better, unfolding in front of me. Leaving law, packing up my bags, moving to Europe, listening to that voice every time I heard – and felt – that YES! This is it! This is the road. This is my road.
Almost 20 years later, I am in awe realizing the journey I have been on and how it’s led me to such a wonderful place. I see my children understanding what they are passionate about, what they love, and what lights them up. I hope with all of my heart that they are braver than I was and that they choose roads from the start that resonate with them. For me, it’s the path to come closer to the person you want to become, and that makes all the difference.